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Inside a cramped studio apartment on South Beach, a tiny 95-year-old woman in white polyester pants and a white jacket is watching some of the preliminary skirmishings in the O.J. Simpson trial on TV. Hunched over in her rocking chair, peering intently at the screen, Charlotte Leibel, like millions of other Americans, holds strong opinions about the case. As deputy district attorney Marcia Clark talks on-screen, Leibel suddenly bursts out, "He's guilty as hell!" But unlike most observers of the trial, this particular viewer has unique insights into O.J.'s personality, perceptions so special that the tabloid TV show Hard Copy featured her in December as an expert commentator on...O.J. Simpson's handwriting. And this past Tuesday, she appeared on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, right alongside Tom Arnold.
Leibel, it turns out, has about 50 years' experience analyzing the handwriting of thousands of people for clues to the human personality. Her Simpson findings were ballyhooed at the top of the Hard Copy show as O.J.'s "Secret Message" contained in the "suicide note" he wrote on the day he fled in Al Cowlings's notorious white Bronco. The note, first read aloud by his friend Robert Kardashian at a news conference last June, proclaimed O.J.'s innocence and love for his ex-wife, Nicole, but Charlotte Leibel didn't care about any of that -- she just looked at the individual letters and the style of Simpson's penmanship.
She based her analysis on a careful examination of what she and other handwriting analysts say are telltale signs, such as the slant and size of letters and the way loops and strokes are formed. During Leibel's segment on Hard Copy, the TV announcer breathlessly intoned, "Now one of America's leading handwriting experts has just finished examining the note, and what she has to say may shock some of O.J. Simpson's supporters." From her couch in her apartment in a public housing project on Alton Road, Leibel told the TV interviewer, "When I saw his writing, I was pretty well convinced that he was capable of violence."
Her views on O.J. are discussed in more detail in a book one of her acolytes arranged to publish this month, Change Your Handwriting...Change Your Life. It is a revised version of a 1972 book that illustrates not only how to analyze handwriting but how to change your personality by altering your handwriting. This supposedly is accomplished through "graphotherapy," an obscure self-help technique. (Personal problems can be solved, Leibel contends, by spending 30 minutes a day for several months practicing new handwriting styles. "It's the only way they [people] can really help themselves," she says in a forceful manner. "Handwriting is brainwriting. By changing it, you're changing the brain.")
As for O.J., Leibel never had the opportunity to work directly with him to change his handwriting, so he remains stuck with the unique stylistic quirks that mark him, in Leibel's view, as a dangerous man. "I've never seen such violence," asserts Leibel, who's also studied Charles Manson and other sociopaths, as well as nobler celebrities. "O.J.'s jealousy is seen in the wavering of pressure as he writes," she notes. "His printing is disconnected" -- which, she explains, indicates his independence, stubbornness, and strong feelings that could lead to violence. Our grade school teachers were right: Penmanship, it seems, does count.
Over time, Leibel claims, she has discovered traits in celebrities that were not widely known at the time she did her analysis. For instance, in the 1960s, Leibel studied Eleanor Roosevelt's signature closely and discovered that she had homosexual tendencies. The giveaway, to Leibel, was the distorted way the former first lady made her lower loops in letters, such as f, which supposedly reflect sexual impulses; hers had a squarelike appearance. In recent years, historians have discussed the possibility of a homosexual friendship between Roosevelt and journalist Lorena Hickok. Whatever she discovers, Leibel holds no doubts about the general accuracy of her methods.
"It's the most valuable science in detecting personality that there is," she says. (Although enthusiastic clients and handwriting experts back up her view, critics point out that few well-designed studies exist to confirm the validity of "graphology," or handwriting analysis.)
As in the case of Eleanor Roosevelt, Leibel's purported ability to probe the innermost depths of the human spirit often leads her to discover hidden truths about people's sex lives. When John F. Kennedy was still in office, Leibel took one look at the enormous y stem in his signature and concluded, "He had the most outstanding sexual appetite I ever saw." (Only after his death did the country learn that he was what today would be called a "sex addict.")
Indeed, Leibel doesn't pull her punches when making any of her pronouncements, whether you're one of the common folk or a candidate for higher office. For example, Leibel recalls speaking to a local women's Republican club in 1968 when one of the members handed her a handwriting sample of a politician about whom she claims she knew virtually nothing: Richard Nixon. After glancing at the paper, Leibel told the stunned audience, "What an opportunist!" Nixon was elected president, but after he resigned in the wake of the Watergate scandal, she remembers, one of the club officials told her, "By golly, you were right!"